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Power Chords and Enigmatic Moves

WTF! And this reviewer means that in a good way. No, make that a great way! Whatever it was—and is—“takemehome,” the 65-minute work choreographed by Paris, France-based Dimitri Chamblas, was, by turns, provocative, enigmatic, stunning, stirring, singular and, well, something else again. Chamblas, who recently stepped down as dean of the dance department at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), together with musician Kim Gordon (she of Sonic Youth fame), crafted a piece for nine Studio Chamblas dancers, an inflatable zeppelin—which changed colors, including to cherry red—five electric guitars and five amplifiers that proved as mysterious as it was brilliant.

Performance

Dimitri Chamblas and Kim Gordon: “takemehome” 

Place

REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater), Los Angeles, CA, November 8-9, 2023

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Marion Barbeau, Eli Cohen, and Joel Medina in “takemehome” by Dimitri Chamblas and Kim Gordon. Photograph by Angel Origgi

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Seen in its US premiere last week at REDCAT—it heads to New York November 17-18 as part of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Dance Reflections Festival—the opus was a headbanger’s paradise. Indeed, after the loud soundscape of Nacera Belaza’s “L’Onde (The Wave),” seen a few weeks ago, also at REDCAT, “takemehome” (and for John Denver fans, sorry, this work had nothing to do with the late singer/songwriter’s twangy feelgood hit, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”), upped the decibel ante tenfold.

But who’s counting, as earplugs proved to be the accoutrement of the night, allowing one to be ready for the aural onslaught. Beginning with a number of bodies lying prone on the stage, a rather amusing looking blimp —at first white and the supplier of illumination (courtesy of Yves Godin in collaboration with Virginie Mira for the “device” conception)—hovering overhead, the set could have served as a kind of runway or a miniature Roswell Area 51, with E.T. beckoning. 

In effect, it was neither, at least as far as those horizontal bodies were concerned, because these were audience members who, after 10 minutes, gingerly returned to their seats as the “real” dancers began making their entrances.

And enter they did! Several, with their faces, necks and hands smeared with green and blood-red make-up, looked as if they were escapees from George Romero’s 1968 classic horror flick, Night of the Living Dead. Deploying slo-mo, lumbered Wilsonian walks that morphed into running, leaping and spinning, this could have been the Judson Dance Theater—on methedrine.  

Marion Barbeau and Salia Sanou in “takemehome” by Dimitri Chamblas and Kim Gordon. Photograph by Angel Origgi

There was even a kind of marching, the extended unison arms of Eva Galmel, a dreadlocked Jobel Medina and Marion Barbeau, unfortunately, bordering on neo-Hitlerian, but perhaps that was the point: These folks were heeding some kind of calling, higher or otherwise, though the gambit still proved a bit unsettling in these über-unsettling times.

Chamblas, who has collaborated with a myriad of makers, from Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld, to William Forsythe, Lil Buck and Benjamin Millepied, has also worked with inmates at the California Institution for Men in Chino, CA and California State Prison in Lancaster, which could account for some of the thinking behind, “takemehome.”  

With the program notes describing the nonet as, “the forgotten ones of the great metropolises: prisoners, elders, unproductive ghosts, the neglected, the indecisive,” noticeably missing were those experiencing any kind of joy (talk about an anhedonic assembly of weirdos). Still, this writer was into the ride, which continued to reveal a multitude of dancerly experiences, though the existential imponderables were always front and center, i.e., who are they, what are they, and finally, why are they, with one rationale being that these denizens from another universe were waiting for blast-off. 

Or not!

As the dirigible ascended, taking on, at one point, a teal blue tint, various human groupings assumed off-angled stances and floor gambolings, with Medina deploying an insanely difficult looking backward bend, his lone leg actually pointing skyward. Gaga could also be read into some of the movement vocabulary, the squirms nearly contagious.

Eva Galmel, Eli Cohen, Marissa Brown, Kensaku Shinohara, and Joel Medina in “takemehome.”Photograph by Angel Origgi

As Marissa Brown mounted one of the five amplifiers and brandished a guitar, the sounds—a repeated chord in a steady 4/4 rhythm—would soon be bone-crushing, yet cool. This band of one shortly grew to a quintet—as Galmel, Eli Cohen, Kensaku Shinohara and Medina joined Brown. And with the constant clang-clanging reverberations coursing through the theater—recalling the late guitarist/composer Glenn Branca—the dancers/cum/musicians still remained somewhat emotionless. 

However, irrespective of the slashing/thrashing soundtrack, the resemblance to a Norman Rockwell painting did not seem that far-fetched, if, that is, it was being viewed while under the influence of, well, acid.  

Whether lying in human piles on the floor, being held aloft on a pair of shoulders, or caressing a horizontal body (Barbeau and Salia Sanou), these performers, including Pierrick Jacquart, were inhabiting an alien world, yes, but one that was strangely compelling. The costumes, credited to Andrealisse Lopez and Chamblas, whose work has also been performed in venues including London’s Tate Modern, Paris’ Centre Pompidou and Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, were a hodgepodge of shorts, work-out pants, assorted tops and tees, but nevertheless managed to give prominence to the performers’ sometimes slinky, slithery moves. 

And yes, there were even scenes that could be termed beguiling, notably when groupings resembled an amoeba, or perhaps a paramecium, but blobby, for sure. Individuals, including François Malbranque, his green-gooed face a study in concentration, was somehow able to execute aggressive extensions. When the pathetic looking balloon, half-airless, collapsed to the floor like a worthless tent, a heroic Sanou was the last man standing, his mission, whatever it had been, ended.

Was there also a surfeit of loneliness, threaded throughout this terpsichorean tapestry? Indeed, but, as described in the press notes, the “collective isolation, telepathy and intuition maintain communication. Between the lines, under your skin, the driving force of the future and of the living continues to circulate and resist.”

In short, this opus—decidedly not for the faint of heart, but with its superbly steadfast performers and intensely disturbing soundtrack—demands to be seen. 

Victoria Looseleaf


Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.

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